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Friday, October 28, 2016

By Jim Wyss, The Miami Herald

BOGOTA, Colombia — In what might be the first step toward ending Venezuela’s two-month-long political crisis, the government and opposition leaders agreed Tuesday to begin formal peace talks that will be mediated by the Vatican and the foreign ministers of Brazil, Colombia and Ecuador.

The agreement came after the two sides held an “exploratory meeting”’ earlier in the day to lay the groundwork for negotiations.

As he left the meeting, Vice President Jorge Arreaza said the talks would “touch on every issue that’s of interest to the country” and “lead toward justice and peace.”

Arreaza said the date of the first meeting would be set this week.

Ramon Guillermo Aveledo, the executive director of the coalition of opposition parties known as the MUD, said both sides had agreed to televise their first formal meeting.

“This process has to take place in front of the world and Venezuela,” he said.

Even at this preliminary stage, however, some opposition voices were warning against capitulation.

Antonio Ledezma, the mayor of metropolitan Caracas, told Union radio that he was skeptical of the government’s intentions.

“For me, it’s one thing to engage in dialogue and it’s another to surrender,” he said.

Former opposition Deputy María Corina Machado, who has been at the vanguard of some protests, said talks shouldn’t take place unless all demonstrators were freed.

Since the anti-government protests began in earnest Feb. 12, the administration has arrested two opposition mayors and Leopoldo Lopez, the head of the Voluntad Popular political party. More than 2,285 protesters have also been temporarily detained and 192 are still in jail, according to government figures.

“We cannot have dialogue with students detained, mayors detained and (Lopez) detained, and while there’s repression,” Machado wrote on Twitter. “Students and the forces that are driving the protests have to be a part of the discussion.”